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Mitchell Akiyama - Small Explosions That Are Yours To Keep

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Artist: Mitchell Akiyama

Album: Small Explosions That Are Yours To Keep

Label: Sub Rosa

Review date: Jul. 4, 2005

If a photograph can claim to depict a tree, a digital photograph can invent that same tree. The tree’s existence outside the frame of the photograph can never be confirmed. Small Explosions never claims the tree exists, nor does it attempt to build a real tree from ones and zeroes, but its brooding instrumental sketches – heavily processed and rearranged to form coherent compositions – suggest musical events that have never occurred, arrangements never actually played. On the title track, a stark accordion figure traces a percussive loop reminiscent of Steve Reich: it deliberately accrues eighth notes until the song, saturated, graciously tips its hat and bowls over.

Mitchell Akiyama, known for electronic deconstructions of traditional music, leaves the imprint of that fragmentation a little further behind this time around, sacrificing tension for the melodrama of reconstruction. It’s an act that may be too convincing, inasmuch as Small Explosions tries to capture some of the emotional immediacy of a chamber orchestra, an expectation from which computer musicians have been more or less freed.

Not that Akiyama should be chastised for donning those chains again. While the pieces here are often beholden to a concrete reference point – breathing, room sounds, and the ubiquitous bird calls situate the sounds in a space that, while not real in the strictest terms, is still familiar; they regularly achieve a sublime elegiac quality. On “Your Distance Kept,” long-dead guitar melodies are resurrected by echoing bells, sustained across a haze of bending strings.

But even these sounds, guitars and saxophones processed to the brink of illegibility, now sound familiar within the idiom of computer music. There’s a slightly Gothic historicism behind those layers, but without the dim witticism and Dionysian drawl of other, more playful collagists. The typical tropes of ambient electronic music gather as if for a summit: modulated bells, crackling soundscapes, murky but reverberant synth tones. But the incorrigible languor of these effects is matched by a somber commitment to rhythm. The subtly uptempo barn stomp of “But Promise Me,” hand claps and all, recalls Bela Bartok’s primitive-modern compositions.

If this were a fireworks show, the explosions would occur in 10-minute intervals, with no finale, only withdrawal. The exit, “Ghost Storms,” is marked eloquently by a lethargic chorus and strings coupled to form three notes that are sustained just long enough to trace one another in a glissando. Having made the grandiloquent statement of fallng into one another, they disappear.

By Alexander Provan

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